Saudis Holding 8 Christians in Custody

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, AUG. 29, 2001 ( Eight Christians have been arrested in police raids in Saudi Arabia since mid-July, the Vatican agency Fides reported.

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On Aug. 19 and Aug. 20, six Christians were arrested and imprisoned by security agents in Jeddah.

Three of them are identified as Tinsaie Gizacheu, an Eritrean; Afobunor Okey Buliamin, a Nigerian; and Baharu Mengistu, an Ethiopian. The identity of the other three is unknown. All are accused of professing the Christian religion.

Buliamin is in the most serious situation, since his passport identifies him as a Muslim. According to local sources, Buliamin converted to Christianity while in Saudi Arabia; consequently, he is regarded as an apostate of Islam and liable to the death penalty.

Prabhu Isaac of Indian nationality was arrested in Jeddah on July 19. The police broke into his apartment and questioned him at length. They confiscated Bibles, books of liturgical songs and a computer containing information about other Christians in the city. Iskander Menghis, a Christian from Eritrea, suffered the same fate July 25.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the police roundup was aimed at identifying the names of Saudis connected with the Christians, all of whom are foreign guest workers. The Christian group stresses the abuse of human rights on the part of the Saudi authorities, who arrest individuals solely because of their religious convictions. The organization has called for the unconditional release of the eight prisoners.

Of the approximately 6 million foreign guest workers in Saudi Arabia, 600,000 are Christians.

Saudi Arabia, considered sacred Muslim territory, does not allow followers of other religions to construct their own places of worship, or hold religious services in private. Prayer and Bible-study groups are found in major Saudi cities, but participation in these meetings is risky. Possession of non-Islamic articles such as rosaries, crosses, holy pictures and Bibles can lead to arrest.

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